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Postgame Pontifications: Set pieces count just the same

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The Sounders have won five straight and are finding new ways to win each week.

SEATTLE — Throughout the Seattle Sounders’ eight-game unbeaten run, there has been plenty of cause to give a bit of a sideways glance to the quality of the results. Most of the wins have either come against bad teams or, in the case of New York City FC, against an opponent coming off exceptionally short rest.

In beating FC Dallas 2-1 on Sunday, though, the Sounders have now shown they are a legitimate threat to anyone in the Western Conference.

As much as Oscar Pareja tried to downplay the Sounders’ achievement — suggesting that because both goals came off set-pieces that FC Dallas deserved a result — the reality was Seattle was the better team for the bulk of the game. Aside from FC Dallas’ goal, they never looked particularly likely to score and only forced Stefan Frei into a single save. They also earned just three corners and one free kick inside the offensive third.

The Sounders may not have generated a ton of open-play chances themselves, but they applied enough pressure on the Dallas defense to win 14 corners and a couple dangerous free kicks. That the Sounders happened to score on two of those plays does not mean those goals somehow count for less or weren’t well earned.

For their part, the Sounders didn’t seem particularly inclined to diminish the win, either. The postgame locker room was about as bright and buoyant as it has been all year with laughter and chatter filling the air long after reporters were finally allowed in.

I asked Cristian Roldan to contrast that mood with the way things felt following the loss to the Portland Timbers that left the Sounders precariously close to being effectively eliminated from the playoffs. They’re now just three points behind the red line with a game in hand and hosting a playoff game no longer seems out of reach.

“It’s night and day,” Roldan said. “You see how loud is it in here, you see how much energy the players have after these games. It’s about the camaraderie. We lose together and we win together. That’s the most important thing. You have a team that’s committed to each other, it’s potentially a playoff team, potentially a championship team.”

Man on Fire

No one was more disappointed about missing out on the World Cup than Nicolas Lodeiro. Upon his return, the normally upbeat Uruguayan seemed to be playing almost angry. He’s been taking it out on opponents.

Since scoring his first goal of the season in his first game after being cut from the World Cup team, Lodeiro has been on an absolute tear with six goals and five assists. Five of those goals have come in the last six games.

I guess some didn’t appreciate my suggesting that some of these goals have been a bit fluky — particularly his free kick on Sunday — but Lodeiro at least deserves credit for putting balls into dangerous areas and forcing goalkeepers to react.

Lodeiro has always been the focal point of the offense, but that’s traditionally mostly as a facilitator. During this six-game run, Lodeiro has continued to touch the ball plenty, but he’s also been shooting a lot more. His 21 shots are two more than he had in his 11 previous appearances combined. Even taking out the three penalties he’s converted, Lodeiro is basically doubling his shot rate to 3.0 per match. That’s also more in line with what he was doing during his first season when he was taking about 2.5 shots per match.

Where’s Raúl?

None of this is meant to imply the Sounders’ offense is actually good. The improvement over the start of the year is stark — they scored just seven times in their first 11 games while not scoring from any sort of set piece or even drawing a penalty — but no one should be losing their minds over 19 goals in 12 games or even the 10 goals they’ve scored during this five-game winning streak.

For all of Raúl Ruidíaz’s positive impacts, the one thing he’s yet to do is regularly put the ball in the net. That’s mostly due to defenses collapsing on him and the Sounders’ inability to find him in space. Against Dallas, Ruidíaz had just 16 touches. In the second half, he was only permitted five passes and a single shot.

If the Sounders are to fully unlock their potential, getting Ruidíaz untracked is going to be a big part of that. Last week I talked about the potential of reviving Sigi’s Arrow as a way of getting two forwards on the pitch without sacrificing a ton of possession.

Another possibility is simply seeing if swapping Victor Rodriguez for Harry Shipp or Osvaldo Alonso does the trick. Rodriguez only played 13 minutes against Dallas, but just having him on the pitch gives the Sounders’ offense some bite that it otherwise lacks. Ideally, I’d like to see Roldan moved back into the defensive midfield, but I suspect Brian Schmetzer will at least want to see how the offense looks with Alonso and Rodriguez before benching a player he clearly trusts immensely.

Say Unkel!

Somewhat clouding an otherwise impressive performance were the antics at the end of the game. It all seemed to start with an incident that wasn’t fully caught on camera between Osvaldo Alonso and Roland Lamah. About a minute later was the incident between Reto Ziegler and Ruidíaz. The game finally ended a few minutes later amidst a flurry of hard fouls in the corner and FC Dallas players repeatedly refusing to give — and referee Ted Unkel barely trying to enforce — the required 10 yards of space on free kicks and corner kicks.

That then spilled over into several midfield confrontations between players, coaches and other team staff.

My suspicion is that we’ll hear more about this in the coming days as the MLS Disciplinary Committee sorts through the mess. I’d be shocked if Dallas’ reported appeal of Ziegler’s red card is overturned, and suspect some additional fines may be levied. The bigger question is around what will happen to Ruidíaz.

Watching the replay numerous times, it does look like he juts his head back in an effort to create space from Ziegler. If VAR had decided to red card him, I think that would have been a fair outcome. I’d be more surprised if he was suspended, though. Since the play was reviewed, the Disciplinary Committee would need to come to a unanimous decision and would likely need to believe Ruidíaz was intending to head butt Ziegler. I do think there’s a good chance Ruidíaz will be fined for embellishment, but that’s obviously a lower bar.

The game in one gif

Will Bruin has a rather long history with FC Dallas dating to his time with the Houston Dynamo and only seemed to happy to jump into any fracas.

Quote of the day

“I told Nico that once he passed me the ball they were going to foul me so just get my back. And it happened. And it happened again. Then Nico told me to kick the ball off their chest. The time wasting thing is all fun and games when you’re on that side of it.” - Cristian Roldan

One stat to tell the tale

83 — The Sounders have now claimed a league-best 83 points in games after the start of July in each of the past three seasons. That’s a span of 42 games, which gives them a tidy 1.98 points per game during what is essentially the second half of those three seasons. That would be a 67-point season if they could do it in one year instead of waiting until midseason. The next best team, the New York Red Bulls, has 79 points in 42 matches.